Omutete wOkaholo exhibition opened in Walvis

24 Sep 2016 13:00pm
WALVIS BAY, 24 SEP (NAMPA) - An exhibition depicting the colonial migrant labour system experienced in Namibia beyond 1950 opened Wednesday at the Walvis Bay Museum.
Erongo Regional Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua, a former contract worker in Oranjemund, officially opened the exhibition at the town hall.
“As we view the history of our forefathers and fathers, we must use such experience as a lesson to better the employment conditions of our people and our future,” he said.
Titled ‘Omutete wOkaholo’, the exhibition tells the history of how black men were employed as migrant labourers on contract by white employers to work in mines and fish factories, and on railway lines and farms.
Omutete is Oshiwambo for ‘queue’ while Okaholo refers to an identity disk worn around the neck of contract workers to identify them.
The purpose of their employment was to serve the well-being of the white colonial population and establish infrastructure that enabled the export of Namibia’s natural resources to the colonial states and neighbours.
Displayed on banners, the exhibition shows in photos and writing how the recruitment process worked, and how workers were subjected to a harsh work environment including maltreatment and humiliation, and unhygienic and overcrowded accommodation in compounds.
The exhibition that will be housed at the Walvis Bay Museum also depicts how workers in this harbour town, Windhoek and Tsumeb protested the bad working conditions and staged strikes in 1971 and 1972.
These strikes later spread across the country, which slowly led to better working conditions and permanent employment.
Workers used to work for six consecutive months to a year without contact with their families who lived in what was then “Ovamboland”.
They were paid very low wages and were not allowed to move freely in the country. They were detained at their working sites and were only able to cross the Red Line at the present Oshivelo Gate north of Tsumeb with a pass (passport), through which the colonial administration enforced more control over who was where.
Also speaking at the exhibition opening, Walvis Bay Mayor Immanuel Wilfred said the exhibition was being unveiled in the right town, as Walvis Bay has a rich history of contract labourers.
“I can say this town was built by the sweat and blood of contract labourers, hence this is a very important history to preserve and tell,” the mayor said.
Learners from schools in Walvis Bay and Swakopmund were at the exhibition and were told the history of the contract labour system.
Most learners had a slight idea of the system’s history, but not Romario Tjiueza from Duinesig Combined School in Walvis .
“It is the first time I read this and it is a good thing for us, the youth, to know where our parents come from because only then can we reason better and make a change,” Tjiueza told Nampa.
After viewing the photos and reading the texts, learners were tasked to write essays and poems on the exhibition of which the winners will receive a t-shirt each.
The exhibition was organised by the Museum Association of Namibia, the Embassy of Finland and the Walvis Bay Museum.